Jeremy King, a Data & Analytics Consultant at Inspire11,shares about growing up with his grandfather, a prominent civils right leader, having critical dialogue to become a better version of ourselves, and elevating communities around the world to achieve greatness.
Thanks for sitting down with us today, Jeremy! I’d love to start with getting to know you a little better. What makes Jeremy “Jeremy” outside of work?
Let’s see, where do we start? I’m from Houston, Texas. I was born in a small town called Beaumont, where my parents went to college. They went to Lamar University, and I eventually grew up in Houston, where I started playing basketball. You guys know I’m 6′ 9″. I’ve been 6′ 9″ since I was 14 years old, which is actually a wild stat to look back on. Basketball’s probably the part of my life that people bring up a lot more, but I never really saw myself as an athlete.
I was raised by my grandmother primarily in my youth. She and my Grandfather were very, very big on education. My Grandfather, Otis H. King, was a civil rights activist and the Dean of Texas Southern University Law School. He received his law degree from Harvard, was Houston’s first black city attorney, and was instrumental in funding and founding Thurgood Marshall School of Law at TSU. My grandmother received her doctorate in education.
While growing up, education was first and foremost. Then I got tall, and my parents put me into sports. Basketball then became my love, but I always had this passion for technology from my Dad. My mother is an educator, just like my grandmother, and my Dad works in technology and traveled around the world, living around the country for extended periods, during my youth. There was a one to three ratio of people to computers in the house, so I played around with technology because I had access to it and got to see some of the things that he did with his work. Then, of course, my Dad would teach me about it, too. Since I was an only child, I spent my time on computers and shooting basketball hoops in the driveway.
I started playing basketball in middle school and continued in high school. I found my way to Chicago despite every other school I was interested in being in California because I knew I wanted to pursue technology from such an early age. I ended up loving the city and loving Loyola Chicago’s campus and a lot of other things surrounding the opportunity. So I made my way to Chicago in 2012 for school at Loyola and started playing on the basketball team on scholarship. That’s when I joined the information systems department program at Loyola School of Business.
I finished school and moved back to Houston for a bit, where life was more challenging. It was a very humbling time in my life. Finally, I found my way back to Chicago in 2018, at Inspire11 in 2019, and here we are today.
That’s an incredible story and upbringing with the different influences you had in your life. With your Grandfather being a civil rights activist, how has that shaped the meaning of Black History Month for you?
It’s a great time to highlight struggle and overcoming, but also a great time to share the message, more so than usual, of progression. This should be a time when extra attention is paid to some of the achievements that black people have made throughout American history that have gone unacknowledged. It’s important to highlight those achievements, not just specifically because they are African Americans, but because we weren’t afforded the same opportunities to achieve many of the things as non-black people in this country have historically. If you have an opportunity to make history, that’s the standard, but being below standard opportunity to then exceed the standard to achieve greatness is… It’s admirable. It needs to be highlighted to show what could happen when moving the needle from below standard opportunity to standard across all communities.
Also, when we don’t look back to our past, it allows us to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors.
Is there a personal moment in black history that’s particularly influenced your career or your life or who you are today?
I remember growing up learning about black history from my Grandfather, just in our daily conversations because he was a leader in the civil rights movement where we’re from. I remember him giving me books about black history icons, like Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X, and W.E.B. DuBois. There are things that you don’t understand when you’re a child. For example, you don’t understand that specific ways of life aren’t standard.
I would like to think that we can get to a point where teaching about certain history is more commonplace. But, unfortunately, now in my mid-twenties, it seems like some of what I just mentioned is being retroactively taken away from the conversation in our education. That’s a bit frightening to me. I want us to learn about all cultures and communities that have influenced America going forward. These conversations, these discussions that we’re having right now, we need to have more of these to become a better version of what the vision for America is.
Having conversations like this is definitely one piece of it. Are there other things that you think can help ensure that these struggles or uncomfortable conversations continue to occur in the future and we continue to make progress on them?
My coach from Loyola always said, “You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” We’re starting to see more groups that are personally affected or afflicted. What I like to say is groups that feel that they’re not personally affected or afflicted by the struggles of other groups: jump in, speak up, and become a part of the movement. We need more of that. If we want to call ourselves a community or a society, how can we be a when everyone lives in their own silos or bubbles? It’s not just, oh, all black people, let’s get together and fight for what we want to progress in. We would’ve never made it this far if it had just been us the whole time. It’s going to take everyone who’s a part of this society chipping in. Now more people, who don’t think they’re afflicted by some of these injustices that we’ve experienced, are actually seeking ways to help correct the wrongs of their ancestors.
In elementary school, we had a Black History Month program. I was chosen to be a part of the program and recite a portion of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech at Washington. I still have these little mental images of me doing the speech, getting to the end, and doing the finger in the air saying, “I have a dream…” Remembering the audience’s reaction to seeing a young black boy up there, invoke these words of a vision for a better future that is still relevant today, is a reminder that people can be convinced that there are issues that need to be corrected; they need to believe it. They have to want to hear it. Sometimes it forces sticking them in an auditorium in front of someone to make a shift in their thinking.
I want to mention one last thing from attending my Grandfather’s funeral in 2012. As I said, my Grandfather was the Dean of the Law School. There were many congressmen and women that he had educated there. I simply knew him as my Grandfather, the most intelligent person I’ve ever known in my life when I was growing up, and just a lovely person to be around. I’d visit him all the time, but I didn’t learn about many things that I’m telling you about until his funeral, which was so crazy to me.
I remember when I learned about some of the things he had done with Barbara Jordan, who was his debate team partner at TSU and their community and in their civil rights fights. It really inspired me at that moment to develop a mantra for my life. Obviously, that’s not something you can do overnight. Still, I actively started to think more about that and started developing what I wanted to be my mantra, what effect do I want to have on people going forward. I have come to this place where it’s like, how can I positively influence as many people that I encounter as possible and the largest group possible. I try to find a way to do that through work. I think that’s just my personal goal, but if some others of us can try to do that as well through promoting these stories of underrepresented groups, we’ll get to a better place again.
I’m in awe hearing about all this. I can’t imagine your experiences and having these influential and meaningful people in your life growing up. It’s truly exceptional. Would you say that your Grandfather is the civil rights leader that’s inspired you the most?
One thousand percent. I don’t know if my Grandfather would want me to give that as the answer. He was, again, instrumental in starting one of the first law schools that was an option for minorities to get equal quality education. At the time, that wasn’t the case. This was in the fifties and in the sixties when blacks and Latinos in Texas were able to go to law school but could not get an equal education. One of the stories I heard at the funeral was that minorities had their desks outside of the classroom at that time. Imagine the lecture hall, and you’re a black or brown person, your skin tone dictates the equality and subsequently the quality of the education you’re able to receive. If you have dark skin, you sit outside the classroom. Think about that. That’s an atrocity.
Understanding some of those realities of the past is critical in ensuring that things are always different and always better as we move forward. It’s important because if we had no history of anything before the previous 50 years, we would likely repeat so many things.
What makes us unique as a species is that we’re able to adapt and progress based on learning through trial and error. If you looked at every moment of human history that’s led up to now as a science experiment, we would figure out what’s worked and what hasn’t worked. Tracking that through history helps us get to a better pinnacle of existence as we move forward as a species. You’re liable to repeat significant mistakes if they’re not continually expressed to the newest generation.
People tend to inform themselves things that feed into their own biases. That’s a big issue that we’re facing right now. You can research anything and probably find something that will confirm your own biases. But, overall, society needs to make sure that we’re coming together to standardize what we think will benefit us as a society overall. I don’t think it should be one group or two groups coming together to say, “Hey, every group needs to be learning about these things.” All of us need to get together.
What progress would you like to see in the world, let’s say in the next three years, and what role do you think Inspire11 could play to make it happen?
We’re doing a good job heading toward helping to afford opportunities to some groups of people who are neglected in terms of opportunity by society at large. I think programs like what we’re planning with the microloan and scholarship are a great way to start. Those are great social programs. I’d like to see us try to figure out a way to leverage our expertise and prowess with technology to dive deeper into sociopolitical issues and help the influence makers create better-structured programs.
I’d also like to see us try to analyze and understand the underlying data of the issues and disparities between communities in America, and then determine how we can help. Like I said earlier, move the needle from less underprivileged to where there’s more of a standard of privilege. We don’t want to bring the average down and then bring the bottom up to that lower average. We want to continue raising the average and close this gap as well.
This is all very theoretical, but I think we need to look at how we can change. How do we change and influence the mindset of people to think about groups outside of themselves? Then also think about how we make the overall community better? I think it’s access and opportunities, but also getting to a minimum standard of living to receive said access and opportunities.